The Importance of Timelessness in Photography

 

A month or so ago I read thru an article on Rangefinder Magazine featuring the best wedding photography of the year. I forget right off hand what the title of the article was but it featured 30 photographers. Many of the images were stunning, within and of themselves, but almost all of them had a similar retouching applied to get a dark, gritty, dingey look. Even though the images themselves were beautiful the trendy grungy muddy retouching made almost all of the photographers work look the same and clearly dated the work to instantly scream “2017.”

When I first got started in photography back in 2009/2010 high dynamic range photography (commonly called HDR) was all the rage. This technique originally required special software and required the photographer to take several photographs (usually three or more exposures) which were then combined to get details in the lights and darks of an image. These images usually resulted in garish cartoonish images which were loved by non photographers and hated by professionals. Now thanks to improvements in smartphone technology HDR is even available on phone cameras and commonly known to most people today.

Shortly after graduating from Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 plugin and app makers such as VISCO popularized presets and retouching techniques which made images look like they were shot on film. As a fellow Hallmark alumni and I predicted this hipster trend would die and die hard.

Back in the 1980s wedding photographers were the least respected group of working photographers in the industry, after the advent of digital photography nature and landscape  photographers (with the exceptions of a few well knowns) took that position. Part of this was due to hideous trendy photos(like gaudy double exposures of people’s heads in wine glasses).

 

As time goes on I’m sure we’ll have to witness (suffer thru?) many trendy photographic styles; most of which will be caused by retouching and post processing more so than the photography itself. As I had mentioned when observing the recent trend of dark grungy images (which is possibly an overreaction to the airy faux film images of the few years prior) the original photographs (what was captured in camera) were gorgeous but the over processing is what permanently stamped them with the look and feel of 2017.  

Imagine you come from a large family and each sibling had hired the same wedding photographer. Now imagine that the photographer simply adopted the trends of each year. The first 2010 couple would have gaudy HDR images, the second 2013 couple would have hipster-centric faux film images, and most recently photographed 2017 couple would have dark grungy images.

 

The antidote to modern trends in retouching is timelessness. I don’t take the purest view that all retouching is bad and that we should go back to ye olde film days. I have much respect for those who shoot with film but my formal training has been with digital therefore I stick with such. A consistent timeless approach to both the photography and retouching is something that I want to be a hallmark of my work.

 

Since receiving my formal training at Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 my photographic style hasn’t changed greatly. This isn’t an excuse for stagnancy. A photographer’s work should improve over time, and mine has, even though my overall style hasn’t changed. I flee novelty while still improving at my craft. As the years have went on I’ve gotten better at capturing gesture and expression in my images (something my early work lacked). I have also learned to shoot in ways requiring less retouching and post production (partially for pragmatic efficiency workflow reasons) and partially because my work is improving and I’m becoming less dependent on post production. I have always strived to present simple, clean, elegant portraiture (and wedding documentary) to my clients. These defining traits (clean, simple, and elegant) could also be used to describe my commercial, event, and fine art images as well. If you look at the slideshow on my homepage I have images spanning from 2013-2017. The changes in the imagery is subtle. Newer images show more expression and gesture while older images where a little more static and focused on technical precision. Despite the year taken the style as remained the same.

Here at Ryan Watkins Photography I strive to provide clean, simple, elegant photography for my clients regardless of current trends or what genre of photography I am photographing for them.

Modest Models lead to Better Portraits

 

One of the first things I learnt during my studies at the Hallmark Institute of Photography was just because an image has an attractive subject doesn’t mean that it is a good photo. Sadly many photographers assume that having having attractive models instantly makes there photographs good.

How you dress you models greatly impacts how good the final image is. When photographers photograph scantly clad models their apparel, or lack there of, will be distract from the models face. When an image is lit to emphasis the models body or cloth instead of the face the image no longer a portrait but a fashion or glamour image.

Having modestly dressed models leads to better portraits because it focuses the views attention on the face and not on there body or cloth. 

Best Places to View the Fall Colors in Michigan

 

One of the things I love about being a fine art photographer in Michigan is being able to photograph the beautiful fall colors each year.

The Pictured Rocks national lake shore is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in Michigan. I haven’t had the opportunity to go back up there in many years. 

Most of my Fall 2016 series was photographed near my home town of Clare. Many of the back roads have beautiful color in October. One of my favorite roads to drive down for fall color images in Dover Road near Jays outside of Clare, Michigan. 

One of the most frequently photographed areas for fall colors is Oak Road between Clare and Coleman Michigan. Most people who have seen the “The Tree Tunnel” end up returning to see it again. To get to Oak Road drive to where Tobacco Drive and Colonville Road meet. Less than a half mile down from the intersection on Tobacco is Oak Road. 

Here are some addition resources for recommended places for viewing fall colors in Michigan. Many of these locations I hope to visit in the future but have yet to. 

12 Of Michigan’s Most Dazzling Fall Color Drives 

18 Spots to See Fall Colors in Michigan 

Upper Peninsula Fall Color Routes 

Top 5 Fall Color Views

Best Places to See Fall Colors in Michigan 

5 Places to See Northern Michigan Fall Color 

Fall Color Tours 

Why Your Photographer Must Know How to Use Flash

 

 
 

Plenty of beautiful images have been taken with natural, or ambient, light, but when you are a professional photographer you have to be able to guarantee you can get beautiful images for clients regardless of the ambient lighting conditions. This is where flash photography comes in. 

When I got my formal photographic training at Hallmark Institute of Photography my professors Gregory Heisler and David Turner would take us once a week to various locations and teach us location lighting. Photographs for different clients and usages require far different lighting. With flash you can create a wide variety of different looks but with natural light alone you a restrained to just one. 

By using flash I can create beautiful studio quality light outside or inside regardless of what the natural light conditions are like. An example is the above portrait of a doctor in Holyoke, Massachusetts. This was photographed in a dark hallway in a hospital. The natural lighting was very poor. By using flash with a Color Temperature Orange gel I was able add beautiful light to light the doctor while letting the background turn blue to make the subject stand out. If I was limited to natural light I wouldn’t be able to get the blue color in the background nor the soft portrait lighting on the subjects face. 

Boring locations can be turned into beautiful ones when lit properly. The above images are of a church near Midland, Michigan before and after lighting it with flash. 

A technique I regularly use is combining flash and natural light. The above images are examples of this. In all of the above images the natural light is shining on the back of the subject and a flash is lighting the subjects face. If I was using only natural light the subject would either be a silhouette or the the background would be blow out. 

Being able to use flash also makes it so I can create portraits at times of day not possible for natural light only photographers. For example these portraits of Jerry and Emily where created long after sunset in downtown Clare. 

Wedding receptions are notoriously dark. To get great photos of the dancers flash is required. By using flash combined with a slow shutter speed in rear curtain sync mode I can get the main subject sharp while blurring the other dancers to show motion. Without flash this entire image would be blurry.

Lastly being able to use flash with a light weight portable background makes it so I can create studio portraits on a black or white background in almost any location. Instead of having to come to me to a studio session I can bring my studio to you! For large groups I can photograph each person individual and later photoshop them together. 

Why I Switched to White House Custom Color

Since moving back to Michigan in 2013 after graduating from Hallmark Institute of Photography I’ve experiment with offering a wide variety of prints and products from various labs. I had been using primarily one lab but as time went on I continued to have more and more problems with their ordering software. It eventually got to the point where I could only order some of their products. At that point I started trying other print labs. I used several which had decent turn around time and good print quality, but White House Custom Color ended up being a cut above all of the aforementioned labs. The print quality and turn around time were great and consistent. When dealing with there customer service when I had some issues ordering they were always polite and solved my issues promptly. They also offer beautiful custom packaging and different print options than my formal primary lab. They support a ton of great charities including Flashes of Hope and Help Portrait which I have been part of in the past. I would highly recommend White House Custom Color to fellow professional photographers. 

How Much Retouching Is To Much?

 

 

Since Photoshop, and other editing software, became readily available there has been a steady stream of complaints about over retouching from the media. Most of the complaints come from photographs used in editorials and advertising, such as slimmed down celebrities and models. Documentary photography and photojournalism hasn’t been free from this controversy either. Many photographers have been in hot water for combining multiple photos and passing them off as reality. Also many of us have probably seen photos of friends and family where there skin has been smoothed to the point of looking like plastic.

 

So what is too much retouching? The answer to that question is greatly based upon what type of photography we are talking about. Something that is within orthodoxy for fine art photography would be seen as heresy in photojournalism. For example compositing, or combining multiple photos into one finished image, would be acceptable, and even common, in fine art photography but would be forbidden in photojournalism. This would become a gray area in nature photography depending on what images were combined and how.

 

When determining how much retouching is acceptable we have to decided what type of image we are dealing with. Is this image supposed to be an accurate representation of real life or not? Documentary and photojournalism should look as close to real life as possible. Fine art can look like just about anything and does not have to be an accurate rendition of the subject. Most types of photographs fall somewhere in the middle.

 

The following conclusions are what are generally considered acceptable by the photography industry as a whole when it comes to retouching. I do not think that just because most people in the photography industry agree that some kind of retouching is okay that it then makes it okay. For example if the majority of the industry decided it was okay for me to Photoshop my head onto some buff guy’s body and put it on an online dating site that wouldn’t be acceptable just because the majority in the industry agreed that it would be.

 

For the type of portrait photography that I primarily deal with, seniors and families, we want our subjects to look rested and healthy. Essentially the average senior and family portrait photographer wants his or her subjects to look like themselves on their best day. When retouching we go by a rule called “The Two Week Rule.” If something was there two weeks ago or will be there in two weeks we keep it but have the liberty to reduce it. If something wasn’t there two weeks ago or won’t be there in two weeks we get rid of it. For example a mole or birth mark, which has been there for over two weeks and will be there two weeks in the future, we may minimize or reduce, but we would not fully remove. A scar or pimple, which wasn’t there two weeks ago and won’t be there in two weeks, would be removed.

 

Senior and family portrait photography does allow more leeway in some aspects of retouching. For example, adding unique textures, compositing for creative backgrounds, and even face swaps in family photos are all fair game. Unnecessary skimming down and overly aggressive skin smoothening would be unacceptable though.

 

Unlike senior and family portrait photography advertising, editorial, and celebrity portraiture doesn’t have an easily rule like “The Two Week Rule” to follow. High-end retouchers, who work on celebrity portraits for the covers of Vogue and the like, can spend over eight hours doing intricate pixel level retouching. Probably the most controversy has risen from these types of images. Unlike your typical family portrait or photojournalism the line is not as cleanly defined as to when is too much.

 

Many people will complain about how these images are trying to promote that all people should look like these celebrities. I don’t deny that many, mostly younger girls, are discouraged by these images if they view them as a standard of beauty. If these images are viewed as such it is problematic, because in reality no one looks like the person on the finished cover of Vogue. It is fake. People have taken someone most of society considers attractive then they have spend thousands of dollars on the world’s best make-up artists, hair stylists, wardrobe stylists, photographers, and retouchers to make them look even better. If we see the same celebrity in real life they won’t look like they did on the magazine cover.

 

The argument over whether or not this type of retouching is acceptable or not will probably go on for a very long time. I’m not going to attempt to solve the issue in this short article. Something to keep in mind is these images are not meant to be documentary photography or photojournalism. They are not accurate representations of reality. They are highly produced images created to get you to buy a product or magazine and should be viewed as such.

 

Photojournalism and documentary photography definitely has the strictest rules for retouching. This is supposed to be as accurate to real life as possible. Compositing would be unacceptable. Most global adjustments, retouching which affects the entire image, would be allowed. For example turning and image black and white or fixing exposure by darkening the entire image would be acceptable. Dodging and burning, selectively lightening and darkening parts of the image, is a bit of a gray area and may or may not be allowed depending on how much it changes the image.

 

There is a lot of gray area in what is allowed in nature, wildlife, and landscape photography. Even film landscape masters like Ansel Adams spend much time in the dark room getting his prints perfect. Local retouching, retouching that effects a specific part of the image compared to the whole, is almost always acceptable. For example intricate dodging and burning is allowed. There are some times when combining multiple photos may be allowed and times when it is not. If several images are taken at the same location on a tripod with varying exposures, and then are later combined so that there will be details in the lightest and darkest parts of the image this is generally accepted. On the other hand, if the same scene is photographed but an animal or sky from another image at a different location is added this would not be allowed. Compositing for tonality, getting detail in the lights and darks, is okay but adding things to the scene is generally not allowed.

 

In fine art photography anything goes. You can pretty much set your own rules here. Some fine art photographers may want to only shoot using film and never touch Photoshop where as others may do series with tons of compositing. As long as you are consistent you are good.

 

 

 

Should you have an Unplugged Wedding?

A current trend amongst brides and grooms are having unplugged weddings. An unplugged wedding is where guests, with the exception of the hired photographer and second shooters, aren’t allowed to bring phones, iPads or other cameras to the wedding. I personally think this is a great idea and will go thru some of the pros and cons of having an unplugged wedding.

Pros

The biggest reason I like the idea of an unplugged wedding is this makes it less likely that guests will photobomb images. If guests don’t have cameras, flashes, phones, or worst of all iPads it makes it harder for them to ruin important photos during the ceremony or reception. During the ceremony and cake cutting many of the guests can inadvertently get in the way or the professional photographer by stepping in the aisle to take a photo or by holding their phones or iPads in front of the photographers view. This recent Huffington Post article has examples of what I’m talking about.

Second, all the images taken during your wedding day will be by the professional photographer. They’re won’t be any unflattering or blurry images up on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter of your special day. Essentially this prevents any bad images from your wedding ending up on social media.

Cons

The biggest disadvantage to having an unplugged wedding is if something happens to the wedding photographer’s images all the photos of the wedding are lost. Granted this unlikely, but it is plausible. The first thing I do after a wedding or sometimes even during the reception is I start backing up the images from the wedding day. By the next morning I usually have three or more copies of the wedding.

There are advantages to allowing guests to take images during the wedding day to. You get far more images and from different view points that the photographer and second shooter couldn’t realistically get to. There are also apps that allow you and your guests to view and share guest images more easily. Check out this article for more info on wedding photo sharing apps. You can also have guests tag all of their Instagram photos and tweets with a specific hashtag or even get 35mm disposable cameras from guests to shoot with.

Here is another great more contemporary article about the subject of the pros and cons of unplugged weddings.



10 Great Vacation Spots in Michigan

Have the winter blues? Planning a trip around Michigan can help lift your spirits. Here are ten great vacation destinations in Michigan that will appeal to the entire family, especially aspiring photographers and art lovers.

1. The Upper Peninsula

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or U.P. as us Michiganders call it, is an amazing destination for nature lovers and aspiring landscape photographers. This pristine, rural part of Michigan has multiple lighthouses, waterfalls, and is home to the incredibly beautiful Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Saint Ignace, Paradise, Munising, and Marquette are cites you’ll want to visit while in the U.P. You can even see the Aura Borealis, i.e. Northern Lights, over Lake Superior during the right times of the year.

2. Charlevoix

Charlevoix is a quaint town in northern Michigan which has an amazing view of Lake Michigan. Charlevoix is host to numerous small shops and art galleries. Also in Charlevoix is Castle Farms an amazing wedding destination or great subject for architecture photographers.

3. Mackinaw Island

Mackinaw Island is an island known for its fudge and carriage rides. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the Island, so all travel is done my foot, bike, or horseback. This is a great peaceful place to get away from the pace of the city with numerous locations for landscape photography or portrait sessions.

4. Leelanau Peninsula

The Leelanau Peninsula is one of the best places in northern Michigan for landscape photography or an amazing backdrop for portraiture. Located in the Leelanau Peninsula are the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore, which was voted the most beautiful place in America by Good Morning America, and the Leelanau State Park.

5. Traverse City

Traverse City is a great weekend get away during any time of year. Traverse City is the Cherry Capital of the World and hosts the annual Cherry Festival and Traverse City Film Festival. It is very close to some of the most scenic parts of Michigan. A beautiful city with tons of things to do both in the city and nearby on the Lake Michigan shoreline.

6. Clare

Clare, my hometown, is a great place for a quick stop on your way to either the northern or southern Michigan. It is located about an hour and twenty minutes north of Lansing on 127. This is home to Cops and Doughnuts, which has amazing coffee, doughnuts, and pastries, and the 515 Gallery, which showcases the work of both local and international artists and is open 11am-4pm on Saturdays. It also hosts the annual Irish Festival on Saint Patrick’s Day weekend.

7. Frankenmuth

Frankenmuth is an amazing place to stop on a weekend getaway. Almost all the buildings in Frankenmuth are reminiscent of Bavarian architecture. It is home to the world’s biggest Christmas store, Bronner’s, and the renowned restaurants Zender’s and Bavarian Inn which both amazing family style chicken dinners. Frankenmuth is a great place for both shopping and sight seeing. Bronner’s Christmas lights and the cities stunning Bavarian architecture during winter can be a gorgeous subject by itself or an even better background for portraiture.

8. Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second largest city, is home to many luxury hotels and museums. Grand Rapids is also home to “Art Prize” which attracts artists from all across the world. It showcases stunning architecture, which is an amazing backdrop for portrait sessions or very nice subjects for amateur photographers.

9. Grand Haven

Grand Haven is a small town about thirty minutes west of Grand Rapids on Lake Michigan. This has an amazing view of Lake Michigan and is highly recommended for landscape photographers. It is also one of my favorite destinations for portrait sessions.

10. Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, the home of the University of Michigan, is as visitannarbor.org put it is, “a small, friendly town with big city sophistication.” Ann Arbor is a great location to view art and museums and is one of Michigan’s most cultured cities. This is one of my favorite places in Michigan to visit especially during their annual art festival during the summer.